Olympic ticket sales to Italians have picked up since it became clear a few weeks ago that Italian slalom specialist Giorgio Rocca is on a winning streak and is a favorite for a gold medal.
However well, or not, Rocca does, Italy has already shown that it merits a gold medal in the traditional sport of compromise.
The issue is doping.
The Italian authorities and the International Olympic Committee have been at an impasse for a year, because Italian law says anyone caught doping is liable to a jail term of two years, although in Italy any sentence of two years or less never results in actual jail time.
Nonetheless, fearful of the idea of athletes being dragged off in manacles, the IOC asked for the law to be suspended. Italy stood on its sovereignty, and the compromise was a moratorium on a decree that the ministry do the testing.
That any of this came about is due in large part to the endurance of Sports Minister Mario Pescante. A former Italian middle distance champion runner, Pescante is the epitome of that most valued of Italian characteristics, the ability to present a "bella figura," a good face. Impeccably dressed, with twinkling eyes edged by laugh lines, he is also a member of the IOC, and uses both jobs to fight against doping, which he sees as a risk both to the health of athletes and to sport itself, which means that compromise does not mean potential cheats need think they have any better chance of getting away with it.
There will be 40 percent more controls in Torino than there were in Salt Lake City, and for the first time blood tests to identify new types of drugs. Random tests in Olympic athletes began this week. During the games the first five finishers in every event will be tested, along with another athlete chosen by lot, and there will be random tests throughout the games.
"I am convinced that it is possible to reduce the phenomenon, to win a battle," Pescante said in an interview with CBS News, but added, "to win the war is different."
While Olympic officials don't want to see what Pescante called police "blitzes" of the Olympic village, the police will be used as much as possible, especially in the hunt for suppliers of illegal substances.
Another thing Pescante has no time for is anything that disrupts or denigrates the Olympic spirit. This week he said he hoped sports fans in the Piedmont region where the Games are to be held would give protestors who have been blocking the procession of the Olympic torch "a kick in the backside." But in that one he may be tilting at windmills. If there were a gold medal for protests, Italy would win it hands-down – or maybe banners up – with ease.
The demonstrators disrupting the Olympic torch run are upset over the sponsorship of the Games by Coca Cola, whom they accuse of human rights violations at a bottling plant in Columbia. The company denies the charge.
And if that seems an obscure cause to take on during the Olympics, another group has announced plans for demonstrations to demand respect for human rights in Tibet.
Protest, both radical and organized, is as cherished a tradition in Italy as lunch. But given the security concerns over terrorism – Italy has troops in Iraq, which puts it high on the al Qaeda target list for example – demonstrators aren't likely to get any more of a break than dopers.
By Allen Pizzey